Feng Shui in Urban Design

Interview with Arina Urban Design Podcast- urbandesignpodcast.com

Arina: Today we have a guest who specializes in Feng Shui. Her name is Jingtai Liu. Jingtai Liu graduated from Nan Kai University in Tian Jin China, and worked as a reporter in the city government. She went to Germany and changed her interests completely to fine arts and architecture. She studied architecture at Elite University Karlsruhe, also worked as a teaching assistant for the fine arts department at the University Karlsruhe. She is a very talented designer and has been involved in many retail, hospitality, institutional, library, healthcare, senior housing, residential, entertainment, fitness center, and industrial projects in America, Germany, Canada, und China. As a student, she won a second prize for a student design competition in Germany and her work was published in the Magazine Landscape & Garden in 1994 and newspapers. For the past 17 years she has been working in America, Germany, Canada, und China, and has been involved in many projects of different scale and scope. Jingtai Liu is a certified Feng Shui practitioner, and we are very pleased to have her as our gust on our show.  Hi Jingtai,

Jingtai: Hi Arina.

Arina: What is Feng Shui?

Jingtai: Feng Shui is…, this name I think sometimes confuses people, Feng Shui actually means “Wind and Water”. It is a Chinese concept about a resource that influences all the substances on the Earth. This deep understanding of the connection between nature and humanity involves more than one field of sciences: architecture, astronomy, geography, psychology, medicine, etc.
Feng Shui is translated „Wind and Water “. Wind and water are pure nature substances. Our body consists to 80% of water, our brain to 96% of water and we breathe only air - oxygen. The qualities of these natural substances, in the city where we are, in buildings which we enter and in areas where we sleep, are the immediate connection in every moment. An architectural planning or ecological planning can provide, change or destroy the quality of these natural substances.

I should mention that Feng Shui itself is not a religion of any sort. As a matter of fact, long before major religions were born, Feng Shui was considered a common sense approach to deal with nature and its forces. Its roots can be found in the simple nature awareness of agricultural farmers. The records about Feng Shui can be found very early, it has been more than 4000 years.

The fundamental idea of Feng Shui is that people recognize, “Universe and People Are One” which Lao Zi (BC 600) also stated. His famous words are “天人和一”, which means: Universe, people and earth complete and complement one another, forming one body. The reason is the planetary movements generate a magnetic field. All sentient beings on earth are influenced by the gravitational pull resulting from the movement of space and earth.

More about Feng Shui you can find in 4th century BC, Warring States period 战国时代,  when Soung Yian 宋研and Yi Wen 伊文 stated: “Everything has Qi, an air form. Qi is the original form of the universe. Qi and Qi together generate a new substance. When it descents the earth, it generates the five agents; up to the heaven, it creates all the planets and stars.” They described further, “lower Qi descents to the earth, and upper Qi rises to the heaven; everything is accomplished in these exchanges”. Now I will give you the definition about Qi, Qi you can interpret as “Air”.

Chinese cosmos theory believes that all matters were gradually developed through the original Qi, and required millions of years. To compare with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, he states the change was gradual, requiring thousands to millions of years. This is the same as many Chinese ancient scientists’ believe, which we can find back to Warring States period.

Why are we talking about this (Feng Shui)? We want to open a door for people who are interested in the connection between buildings, human beings and nature, an integration planning, which can be utilized in different scales from micro space to city planning.

Arina: It is interesting that you mentioned city planning, because usually I heard Feng Shui is used for architecture and interiors. How is Feng Shui implemented in urban planning?

Jingtai: Today I was trying to find the name of a Russian toy. If you open the box you can find more small boxes inside… (Arina) Matroschka. Russian Dolls, Yes, Matroschka.

For Feng Shui you have to go to the large scale, because the energies are from the universe. What happens is the impact from universe on the earth. You can check a large scale map, you see the continents, mountains, rivers… Feng Shui (Wind and Water) comes from the movement of the planet, which influences the earth surface gradually.
Feng Shui has two main design methods which have been used together, such as form school, and compass school. They are used for analyzing the orientation of an urban planning , Yin & Yang energies on one side, Five Elements balancing, also Flying Stars, Ming Tang, Four Sprits… there are  a lot of criteria in these two design methods, they are not only for architecture but also for urban planning.

Now I would like to give a brief introduction about some of the definitions, such as Yin and Yang, Five Elements and so on.

Yin & Yang:

Yin & Yang describe two complementary energies which generate as positive and negative charges or feminine and masculine forces. E.g. dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot — are viewed in Chinese thought as manifestations of Yin and Yang. Balanced Qi/Air in Yin & Yang energy is the source of good health and positive mental outlook.

Especially today, the cities are full of concrete, asphalt and mechanics, all these belong to the Yang energy, the global warming is also because of all the dryness. So today, the Yin & Yang balance is a big mission for us, not only for sustainable design, but also for any type of ecological concepts. We have to go for green, and open the sealed grounds and the pavings for the Yin & Yang balancing.

Five elements,

Additionally to Qi/Air, Yin & Yang (feminine and masculine), for Chinese, the universe is composed of five agents or characters: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The entire universe, including people is comprised of the same five components or characters. The cyclical generation and destruction of the agents is elemental to maintaining a proper balance between Yin and Yang (feminine and masculine.) Which you can also find in traditional Chinese medicine, like the herbs, and acupuncture. Those are also established by the five elements theory. Actually, Feng Shui was found earlier than traditional Chinese Medicine. First of all the people recognize the Feng Shui theory, then the five element theory, and then the Chinese traditional Medicine was established.

Four spirits,

The four spirits are the fundamental elements of Feng Shui Design. They describe the character of these fundamental elements. Blue dragon (Qinglong 青龍) of the east; white tiger (Baihu 白虎) of the west; red phoenix ( Zhuque 朱雀) of the south; and black warrior (Xuan Wu 玄武) of the north.

It means, a decent curved river should be in front. At the back of the house should be a hill or mountain providing protection and support. To the east should be hills. The west should be more elevated than the east so that Qi/Air can flow in. The color represents the four seasons: Spring, the Green/blue Dragon for the East, summer, the red Bird for the South. Autumn, the white Tiger for the West, Winter, the black Tortoise for the North, The center is the earth, brown. (Please check five agents principles)

Let’s look at this more scientifically, the meaning of the composition with these four spirits. That is in fact to create a satellite station. It creates a surrounding, which Qi/Air, the oxygen and sun can be received. The shape of the location serves as a satellite station to observe Qi/Air from the universe and the house’s surroundings. The heights of the mountains serve a best composition to capture the sun light from east to west and the best opportunity to capture the warmness and moisture from south. In the mean time, it servers also as a shelter, a protector.

For example, the trees provide shelter for animals, the forest keeps soil from not becoming a desert, and mountains provide protection for the city. Not only this, almost all the historical cities are established around the rivers, it is not just we need water to drink and for transport, but it is all because of the agriculture and a living environment.  These are the basic Feng Shui design concepts, which all people can practice.

There is another method that is used by Feng Shui professionals which is compass school that is to analysis celestial energy. But in my opinion the first design method form school is adequate for the planners to use and to improve the environment.

There are more definitions, I will not describe here, such as Ming Tong, Anshan, Xuan Kong Bagua, Flying start, four pillars and so on. These are for people who had Feng Shui trainings.

Arina: very interesting, how often is Feng Shui used in urban planning projects in Asia and Unite States?

Jingtai: In the history the Chinese emperors depended on Feng Shui for their residences, cities and Emperor Mausoleum. We can call it urban planning. But today, it depends on people; most traditionally orientated individuals in Asia are using Feng Shui in their lives, but not in a large scale. In United States there are also many people who are looking for good nutrition and positive energy and are interested in Feng Shui. I was trained in San Francisco, and interesting is, most of my classmates are caucations.

Arina:, yes.

Jingtai: So back to the topic, more and more people and researchers realize that Feng Shui and sustainable design or green urban planning have the same sound. People want to incorporate this design concept in urban planning all over the world, from Italy over, England, US, Korea, Malaysia … to China. You can find many Feng Shui practitioners providing their services for urban design. However, there are not many projects integrating the design methodology.

Arina: You have been mentioning on you web site the importance of paving and trees in urban design. What is the importance about the paving and trees in urban design?

Jingtai: In Feng Shui, earth has many meanings. It is called the mother of all lives including plants. It is also the mother for the physical world, such as seasons, and minerals under the ground.  The paving sealed the ground, the earth can not do its natural selections and exchanges, and it can also not provide what it could give us before. In Feng Shui, we have to be very careful with the paving, which is an extremely yang element and it not only creates imbalance of Yin and Yang of the earth and the Atmosphere but also creates the imbalance of people and its surroundings. As I mentioned at beginning, people’s body maintains 80% water, but, see how much water you can get from the surroundings.

Here we want to especially point out the importance and incredible effect of trees and plants to human life. They cover the building like a winter coat. They act as virtual magnets for oxygen and balance Yin Qi/Air and Yang Qi/Air. They are natural protectors of our environment. We are not only dealing with light, warmth, noise and air flow – wind (Feng), we are also dealing with moisture - water (Shui.) Most of the water elements in Feng Shui are generated by green, utilizing landscape, indoor planting and fountains etc. There are many cities, where the trees were removed for their urbanizations. In those cities, there is a high rate of cancer and other diseases. People are not only getting water by drinking, we also get water/ moisture from breathing. That is why we like to go to mountains and to see oceans. The trees are not only protection for our environment, but also for people’s lives.

Arina: It is very good that you talked about the importance of Feng Shui, how about good examples of Feng Shui in urban design, so people can see, what is the good design of urban projects that used Feng Shui?

As I said, there is still a limited number of urban design projects using Feng Shui. I can only say, in Hong Kong or some cities in Asia, many building designs are using Feng Shui. And I did a project that is over 300 acres, in Nan Jing China, for Siemens and Bosch. There are also projects done by other Feng Shui architects, for example, the new WTC (world trade center), it hasn’t been finished yet, but they had Feng Shui consultation, and there were also a lot of Feng Shui discussions about the design. There is one urban design in Netherlands; it is called Amsterdam Central Station. So those projects involved Feng Shui architects.

What I want to mention is, although there are limited projects which have been done with Feng Shui design concept, there will be more in the future. Just as I talked before about the Four Spirits, there are some great cities and neighborhoods around the world very well reflecting the Feng Shui design concept. These are cities such as: Salzburg in Austria, Prague in Czech Republic, Cole Valley in San Francisco, Tuebingen in Germany… certainly there is the Yellow Emperor Mausoleum in China, and those are great examples for urban design.

Arina: Jingtai, it is a very interesting explanation. How and where can people find you?

Jingtai: They can check my web site: www.archiunity.com. I am very happy to talk with people about this topic. And I am also interest in any research about this field.

Arina : Again, Jingtai Liu is a certified Feng Shui practitioner and thank you Jingtai.

Jingtai: Thank you.